Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?
Software Entertainment Games

A History of Copy Protection 536

GamerGirll1138 writes to tell us Next-gen has an amusing walk down memory lane with their history of copy protection. There have been some crazy schemes over the years to ensure that you paid for your software, everything from super-secret decoder rings to ridiculous document checks. "With bandwidth expanding and more and more games publishers exploring digital distribution, there's little doubt that we're entering a new phase in the history of copy protection and those who would defeat it. What's more, the demand for games as a chosen form of entertainment has never been higher. All this considered, it's impossible to believe that the cat-and-mouse game of piracy and copy protection will not reach new levels of intensity, with new technologies deployed on each side, and that some of them will surely create new hurdles for even those who simply wish to purchase and play the newest games. Ah, for the heady days of the code wheel."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A History of Copy Protection

Comments Filter:
  • by Kneo24 ( 688412 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:32PM (#23716023)
    it doesn't treat me like some criminal. I don't want my software to stop working because I had no internet access, and I now have to go out of my way and call technical support. I don't want my software to install root-kits on my PC because it thinks I might be a pirate. I don't want copy protection to be less useful than the pirated version. And so on and so forth.
    • by DriedClexler ( 814907 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:55PM (#23716313)
      by "so on and so forth", you of course mean a pony, right?
    • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:00PM (#23716381)

      So you have problems with any copy protection, as long as it exclusively relies on "trust". Because of course copy-protection must raise hassels. There is some method of verifying you can run the software, and such methods can never be 100% accurate (there are lemons/shorts/ruination/reformats/internet outages/etc).

      The only other alternative would be a locked down OS (far moreso than Vista) with some sort of anti-modding hardware and a hypervisor. Even that would only mostly work, but it would work well enough to eliminate any other inconviences.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kneo24 ( 688412 )
        I thought some of the examples I gave would explain my position more clearly. It appears that I'm wrong.

        I realize all copy protection in some manner treats you like a criminal. I start having issues when it becomes obtrusive to my ability to play a game or use some software.

        I think STEAM is fine. Even if I have no Internet access, I can still play the game as long as I have installed the game.

        I think CD keys are fine. It comes with the game. If I lose the key, that's my fault. The game still theoretic

        • Steam is not fine (Score:5, Interesting)

          by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @07:47PM (#23717613)
          Steam is fine from a copy protection point of view, it's when they start disabling accounts of those who bought their game in Thailand to get it cheaper where I draw the line.

          Some consumers who purchased Valve's Orange Box from vendors located outside of their home country--mainly in an attempt to save on cheaper products--have recently reported that their otherwise legally-obtained games have since been deactivated by Valve's Steam software for territory violation. Talking with Shacknews, Valve's Doug Lombardi now says that the Steam software is merely carrying out this function by design. "Valve uses Steam for territory control to make sure products authorized for use in certain territories are not being distributed and used outside of those territories," said Lombardi.

          "In this case, a Thai website was selling retail box product keys for Thailand to people outside of Thailand. Since those keys are only for use in Thailand, people who purchased product keys from the Thai website are not able to use those product keys in other territories." So are users who bought the game outside of their own country completely out of luck? It appears so, as Lombardi recommends purchasing a legal copy from a local shop in order to keep playing. "Some of these users have subsequently purchased a legal copy after realizing the issue and were having difficulty removing the illegitimate keys from their Steam accounts," added Lombardi. "Anyone having this problem should contact Steam Support to have the Thai key removed from their Steam account."

          This really sucks for me as I travel to and from Thailand all the time. What do they expect? I buy the orange box in every damn country?!
          • by stbill79 ( 1227700 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @08:03AM (#23723327)
            Completely off topic, but it is just another example of pseudo globalization - basically where the corporation gets to use the rest of the world to suit its motives, while not allowing the consumer the same opportunities. You can be damn sure that Valve has used cheap developers, manufacturing, and other benefits of the third world - all at the expense of Western workers. But when it comes time for the consumer to take advantage of the cheaper products in those same third world countries - forget it, our license forbids that...
        • by bit01 ( 644603 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @10:00PM (#23718635)

          If I lose the key, that's my fault.

          No, it's a deliberate game breakage by the vendor. It's crippleware. It's only human to lose things, particularly things as ephemeral and meaningless as a license number, and to pretend it never happens is dishonest. Your game will die.

          The game still theoretically works.

          "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is." ~ Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut/Yogi Berra.

          Ownership is, by definition, the right to control. If the vendor controls it then you don't own it.


          DRM'ed content breaks the copyright bargain, the first sale doctrine and fair use provisions. It should not be possible to copyright DRM'ed content.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        So, a console?
        • So, a console?

          Pretty much. However, a console's copy-protection serves to make it just as hard for someone to write new software as to copy old. In theory, those two don't have to go together. You could also allow far more modding than is possible on a console, content creation/sharing (lock down executables, not content). But yeah, halfway between a console and a computer.

      • The only other alternative would be a locked down OS (far moreso than Vista) with some sort of anti-modding hardware and a hypervisor. Even that would only mostly work, but it would work well enough to eliminate any other inconviences.

        Or rather, it would make all the other inconveniences seem minor in comparison.

      • by twistedcubic ( 577194 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:39PM (#23716843)
        Here's an example. I bought Maple 6 around five years ago. The retail box had a penguin on it, and advertised that it works on Linux. Cool. $140. No problem. So I get home, install it, and find out I have to get a license from Maple to run it. I go to the website, and later find out that the license is for Windows only. So I call Maplesoft, repeatedly, and after about a week I finally get a response. Pretty frustrating, but hey, in the grand scheme of things, a week is not a long time.

        Several months later, after swapping a bad CDROM drive and upgrading RAM, the license key no longer works. So I call Maplesoft, again, and go through the same stupid hassle. The tech FINALLY gave me a machine-agnostic license after all the other crap she tried didn't work. If I had known, I would have asked for one in the first place.

        Adding insult to injury, I had some outrageous charges on my phone bills because I didn't realize calling Canada carried "international calling" surcharges.

        In the end, I didn't find Maple as useful as I expected. So the moral: I'll be more careful about spending money on proprietary software in the future.
      • Can't work. (Score:3, Informative)

        by DrYak ( 748999 )

        The only other alternative would be a locked down OS (far moreso than Vista) with some sort of anti-modding hardware and a hypervisor. Even that would only mostly work,

        Yes, because the whole stack is only as secure as the most secure of its layer.
        As soon as the whole OS, including the hypervisor, is ran inside an outer virtual box, the whole point is moot, and the hyper visor can't trust the anti-modding hardware (is it real genuine functioning hardware ? Or is the hyper visor communicating with an anti-modding hardware simulated by the emulator, communicating with it using bogus crypto keys injected by the emulator, and that simulated hardware will OK whatever pirated s

    • by dhavleak ( 912889 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:03PM (#23716407)

      it doesn't treat me like some criminal. I don't want my software to stop working because I had no internet access
      I feel for the publishers as much as I do for the consumers. Without copy-protection its just too easy for people to rip-off the publishers. I think for people without net-access, phone-in activation is a decent substitute.

      I admit I didn't read the article, but for every new and ridiculous height publishers go to for copy-protection, there a new and ridiculous height that crackers go to, to break the protection and then they put the results on bittorrent.

      I think it's another case where the law woefully lags behind technology. There need to laws (urgently) protecting consumer rights when copy-protection is applied, just like there's the DMCA which helps publishers go after people who circumvent their protections (helps a little too much).

      The point being, once the law makes it clear what copy protection can and cannot do, then at least the publishers have guidelines to work with and can go to town with copy protections but still not trample on our rights.

      I especially think the "treating us as criminals" arguments is given way more weight than it's really worth. I mean, does anybody have a better idea about how to validate s/w as being legally purchased other than using some product activation mechanism (whether it works over the phone or net?)

      • I feel for the publishers as much as I do for the consumers. Without copy-protection its just too easy for people to rip-off the publishers.
        And it's not easy to goto a torrent site and grab the content which doesn't have this protection, generally before the legit content is even out on shelves?
        • And it's not easy to goto a torrent site and grab the content which doesn't have this protection, generally before the legit content is even out on shelves?
          You're right, that's pretty easy, but don't you think publishers would respond to that with even stronger copy-protection instead of removing it altogether?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            They do that all the time, and it's still cracked and released. Publishers are starting to realize that they're spending too much money/time/effort on copy protection, and are moving to a non-DRM mindset, see stardock for an example. I didn't even bother downloading Sins of a Solar Empire for a test run(as I usually do) - I bought it outright because of their stance on copy protection []. I also know several others that did the same exact thing I did.
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:33PM (#23716045) Homepage Journal
    Quality product at a reasonable price.

    • by snl2587 ( 1177409 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:55PM (#23716323)

      Quality product at a reasonable price.

      ...and completely without copy protection. I can honestly say that I have only gotten cracks for games I already own a full license to, but I would have never needed to if the games hadn't been virtually padlocked with a faulty key.

      I bet a lack of copy protection would also lower the number of calls to tech support as well.

      • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @07:52PM (#23717663)
        Reasonable copy protection is fine, too. Ambrosia Software games require a license key to be unlocked. License keys are validated online and time-limited so they invalidate quickly in case they are leaked - but if your key expires you can simply enter your data in their registration program and they give you a new one. As long as you have purchased the game from them you can always request a new key.

        The result is that I feel good about buying from them. Their copy protection scheme is reasonable, it's not much of a hassle (once games are registered they get a machine-specific file saying that they are - no further online checks neccessary) and if I should lose all my data I can just download the game again and request a new license key. That last part makes the scheme almost look like a service.

        Very acceptable, very reasonable and not insulting like StarForce et al. Of course it might not work for high-profile companies as people would release cracks, but for small-to-medium sized companies I think this scheme is much superior compared to the nonsense other companies come up with.
    • by arotenbe ( 1203922 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:57PM (#23716347) Journal
      I'd say the ultimate copy protection would be an awful, expensive product. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to be working for the music industry...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dhavleak ( 912889 )

      The ultimate copy protection: Quality product at a reasonable price.

      Strongly disagreed.

      Copy-protection (akin to shrink/theft prevention) is a completely seperate issue from pricing.

      Customers have every right to think a product is overpriced, and not make a purchase. Similarly publishers have every right to think their product is worth a certain price, and charge accordingly. They might price themselves out of the market if they get the pricing wrong, but they are still well within their rights to decide their price. There might be a tradeoff where a certain price poin

  • The real problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by willyhill ( 965620 ) <pr8wak@g m a i> on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:35PM (#23716061) Homepage Journal
    The submission touches on the real problem, that this epic battle between companies and the freeriders eventually ends up affecting normal people more than really preventing copying. I have friends who are avid gamers but actually end up pirating the games they buy because it's too difficult to deal with the copy protection crap.

    On the other hand I think this will eventually reach a breaking point and these normal people (who are the paying customers) will stop putting up with said crap. That will be an interesting development for sure.

    • surely by pirating they ARE stopping in putting up with the crap?

      Problem is instead of companys activly seaking to please the customer, they give us the option of put up or shut up.
    • by Doctor_Jest ( 688315 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:48PM (#23716223)
      Some have stopped putting up with it, but the resultant decline in sales is attributed to piracy, rather than a fed up customer.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by BZWingZero ( 1119881 )
        Technically, it is due to piracy. Because of all the anti-piracy measures, people aren't buying. Those anti-piracy measures were put in place to counter piracy. Therefore, indirectly, it is due to piracy.
    • Re:The real problem (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Petrushka ( 815171 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:55PM (#23716319)

      I have friends who are avid gamers but actually end up pirating the games they buy because it's too difficult to deal with the copy protection crap.

      I'm sure there's nothing unusual about that. The very first thing I do when I buy a game, even before installing -- and preferably before buying, too -- is to stop off at gamecopyworld and/or gameburnworld to make sure that there's a crack that I can apply to my legitimate (and patched) copy. It's a trend that will only continue.

      I've already had experiences of electronics shops pointing to me to instructions on how to "crack" a DVD player to make it multi-region, how to unlock phones, and so on. I'm sure it won't be too long before we see game shops doing similar things; games will catch up eventually.

      On the other hand I think this will eventually reach a breaking point and these normal people (who are the paying customers) will stop putting up with said crap.

      That I doubt, unfortunately. As the article shows, people have been putting up with copy-prevention schemes since the advent of commercial computer software (in fact the article doesn't start nearly early enough). Some of those schemes have been much more burdensome than present-day ones -- though they're getting worse again, with "activate every time you start the game"-type schemes.

    • I have friends who are avid gamers but actually end up pirating the games they buy because it's too difficult to deal with the copy protection crap.

      FYI there is a differance between playing a game you didn't pay for and cracking the copy protection on a game you did pay for. Both are technically illegal but 1 is far more moral than the other in most people's eyes.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )
      It's not just games, software is affected too. I know people who have legit copies of Windows, but use pirate Corporate editions because they don't need activating.

      Same with many expensive bits of software - the pirate version doesn't need a dongle or online activation, plus it will run on their work desktop, home desktop and laptop from one licence. You see, normal people think that when they buy software they own it and can install it on all their machines, not just one at a time. After all, it belongs to
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:37PM (#23716077) Journal
    Aw man, you mean that secret decoder was just a copy protection scheme? And I wasn't really saving the world? That's it! I was in support of RIAA/MPAA/BSA before but now they've just wrecked my childhood fantasy! I'm going to go poke an eye out and buy a parrot!
  • by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:37PM (#23716081) Homepage
    I remember the Ultima book back when a laser copy was expensive. The colors were pastels, which wouldn't copy on the copy machines of the day, so to pirate the game, you had to spend about as much in color copies as buying the darn thing. Course, I had a friend whose dad's office had a copier... ahh. smell the piracy.
    • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:47PM (#23716219) Homepage Journal
      The trick there was bleach. Bleach would strip the color off the paper but not the ink. So it would turn a print that was for example, grey ink on dark red paper (which would B&W copy to a sheet of black paper) into a tannish/reddish/white sheet of paper, and black lettering, easily photocopied.

      Anyone remember MordorCharge?

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:37PM (#23716087)
    Amusing is sending those of us who actually RTFA to the LAST page of a 4 page article. This article is the straight man in a comedy duo, only without the funny man. That's sort of amusing in an ironic way.

    Just think, without copy protection, we wouldn't have been able to distribute our viruses so easily. With all these kids trying to download cracks from any site that offered them, our bits have gone far and wide.

    Thanks copy protection!
    • "Amusing is sending those of us who actually RTFA to the LAST page of a 4 page article."
      Oh great, now you went and broke the copy protection scheme!
  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:39PM (#23716109) Homepage Journal
    Oh man, I remember moving up from the Commodore 64 to the Mac LC. Because 90% of the C64 software we had was "Load 'n Go" stuff for $1 (literally!) there wasn't much worry about copy protection. I can't remember a single thing we had on that system that had copy protection. The Mac however did have some surprises. We actually sent our first copy of SimCity back to Maxis because we didn't realize that the Red Card with the weird symbols was important and that strange dialog box (I was like 10 at the time, gimme a break) at the start was also important. I thought it was broken because every time you started the game it would throw disasters at your city constantly. The tech support guys were apparently trained to treat anybody asking about the copy protection like a theif, and never bothered to tell us what we had to do either (hence the useless return). Luckily, I figured it out with the second copy (unpacking the box myself instead of letting my brother do it and finding the red card made a big difference).

    Later on I played Chris Crawford's (I think that was his name) Patton Strikes Back. This one was interesting it that it let you run about halfway through the game, and then stopped and asked "are your papers in order"? It then directed you to a specific page in the manual and had you type in a specific word (third word on the second paragraph for instance). There was a slight problem though, the manual had apparently been revised a bit after the copy protection was put in place, so about 5-10% of the time, your game would be destroyed halfway through because it failed the copy check. That was after we got AOL and it was my first foray into piracy, as getting halfway through a tough game and then losing because the copy protection was buggy was a real outrage. This was the days before games released patches, so as far as I know unless you crack the thing there's always a chance of losing the war because of the copy protection.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bjourne ( 1034822 )

      I had the same problem with Pirates! on the Amiga. I think inputting names to pirate photos was the copy protection scheme that occured at the start of the game. If you failed to enter the correct names, the game would be ultra-hard with lots of English frigates and Spaniards hunting you while your crew would mutiny. I never figured it out but managed to do quite well at the game never the less.

      My favorite copy protection scheme was Simon the Sorcerers. It had a set of sprites, hats, cats, brooms and so on

  • Copy Restriction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Virtex ( 2914 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:40PM (#23716127)
    We should call it what it is - copy restricton. It doesn't protect your copy nor your ability to copy. I could understand if it were called copyright protection, but that's just not the case.
  • New form of RIAA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ChrisDavi ( 1272976 )
    Funny how any form of digital media goes from retail to electronic, only to be more protected, then only to be broken. It will only be a losing battle between publishers, users, & crackers. If you can see or use any product, someone can break the protection. The only sure way of non payers using a piece of software, don't release it (or create it for that matter)
  • by Wiseblood1 ( 1135095 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:47PM (#23716217)
  • It was featured in a mag i saw and basicly said that it would "notice" if it was a copied disk....

    You could play the game for awhile then "strange" things would start to happen. The example they gave was a pool game where the gravity would get lower and lower so slowly the balls would just float off the table....

    did anyone see this actually come to light? Did i just imagine it?
    • by Panaflex ( 13191 )
      My copy of Lego Starwars does this when the disk is dirty... perhaps it is on purpose... or perhaps the data is just corrupted.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )
      Operation Flashpoint had a system like this, where if it decided it was a pirate copy the game would slowly fade to black.

      I don't think they ever made a version for a games console though because no-one could ever figure out a reliable way of detecting mod chips (or just CDRs on the Dreamcast).
  • It wasn't very effective as copy protection, but the game had an awesome add-in as it immersed you into the world of arcaheology and adventure:

    Henry Jones' Grail Diary.

    It was in a nice leather-like enclosure, and the paper had a parchment texture. There were lots of pictures with clips and notes addeds, all written by hand.

    The copy protection part was a series of descriptions of the Grail according to various authors - which were referenced by Indy as he investigated various items.

    BTW, in the LucasArts' adventure games, a trimmed down copy of the grail diary was included only for the copy protection. But it wasn't as good as the original.

    As an Indy fan, I would buy the original Last Crusade game again *JUST* for the Grail Diary.
    • by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:28PM (#23716707)
      That reminds me of my favourite bit of copy protection. It was so elegant, I didn't even realize that it was more than just a bit of box fluff. Ultima 5 came with a whack of little things-- a symbol of infinity, a cloth map, a nice in-character manual describing creatures and spells and whatnot... and a narrow scroll that described the voyage of Lord British into the newly discovered Underworld, and his subsequent kidnapping by the Shadowlords.

      Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across the entrance to the Underworld that they used, and found myself able to trace LB's path all the way to the great chamber where his fallen companions still lay. Without that miniature walkthrough, and one page in the manual, with one line of musical notation, written as apparently nothing more than a window on Britannian culture, I'd have never been able to finish the game.

      Unfortunately the later games abandoned that completely. The documentation checks were all at the beginning of the game, and all referred to the bestiary, or lines of latitude and longitude on one of the included maps. What had once been pleasantly immersive (and a dirty, dirty trick on a cheap pirate) turned into a challenge and response to prove that you were the heroic Avatar. Kind of says something about the shift in the relationship between player and developer.

  • by JohnnyGTO ( 102952 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:53PM (#23716299) Homepage
    Vault Corp. what a product. Actually it was ingenious, even if your 5 1/4 disk wore out the little mark would register with the copy protection software. All you needed to do was swap out the back up disks with the original. I hear at Comdex a certain individual told a certain hacker what he would unleash with the next update a worm on anyone that broke the protection scheme. Company was closed about 6 months later.
    • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @08:12PM (#23717855)
      That was the ProLok disk. It had a spot on it that had been heated with a laser, enough to fuse some of the oxide. The result was a small amount of disk space that could be read but not altered. The copy-check consisted of writing all zeroes to that area; verifying all zeroes; writing all ones; and verifying all ones. A disk with the laser spot would always produce at least one compare error.

      The routine was hidden inside a really lame obfuscation scheme. It would read a section of encrypted code from the disk, XOR it byte by byte with a byte selected from a table, and store it in RAM. Then it would select another byte from the table and do the XOR again. And again, thirty or forty times. Each cycle would begin by altering the single-step and breakpoint interrupt vectors to point to an exit instruction.

      If you went to the trouble of tracing your way down through all that, you were rewarded with a delicious irony: the ProLok disk was, itself, a copyright infringement. In order to do the write/read checks they had to insert hooks into the BIOS -- but that was not so easy in the small-RAM days when the BIOS executed directly from ROM instead of being shadowed out into RAM. Vault had to make its own BIOS, and did it by (drum roll) copying IBM's (rimshot). And they made an absurdly lame attempt to cover it up: they took some 800 bytes of the IBM Fixed Disk BIOS, added their hooks, then went through it and interchanged logical-shift-left and arithmetic-shift-left instructions wherever the MSB and carry were guaranteed to be zero (meaning both instructions did the same thing). So, disassemblies of the two BIOSes would look a LITTLE different...

      Oh, the crack? A two-byte change on the disk, probably a back door they forgot to remove. Compuserve was the central clearinghouse for cracks in those days, and picked it up within a week.

      AFAIK Vault's only client was Ashton-Tate, who used it on dBase III. The president of Vault was a guy with a law-enforcement background and a SWAT team mentality who fancied himself a mighty crime fighter, and when he was embarrassed by the quick crack, he boasted they were developing ProLok Plus, which would punish crackers by physically damaging the machine. Business customers were enraged, Ashton-Tate dumped Vault (which was expensive because they owned a one-third interest in it), and Vault was no more.

  • An extremely useless article even by slashdot standards, but I remember two copy protection schemes that sucked even more:

    Lenslock [] - used by a few 80s home computer games. I'm fairly certain it might have been a UK-only thing. It was horrible. You had to fold this crappy bit of plastic a certain way and hold it over a part of the screen. If you were lucky, and your TV wasn't too large or too small, you might be able to make out the decoded letters which you had to type in.

    And then one we used at work: Parallel port dongles []. I used to work in electronic CAD and all the software used this, the result being you needed 5 or more dongles all plugged in at the same time to do any useful work. In the end we got someone in the workshop build a kind of "dongle motherboard" where you could plug in multiple dongles more conveniently than having them hang out the back of the machine, and more importantly pull them out to swap between machines.

    Happy days ... No, actually sucky days. I'm glad I use almost completely free software now.


    • Oh I remember those two. Nasty. Another one was the donglefor leaderboard golf. On the Atari 800 you had to put it in the second joystick port to play. It was a sealed epoxy resined thing so no way to get in without destroying it's secrets.
      Anyhow, I wrote the worlds shorted Atari Basic program i.e. print stick(1) which displayed what the joystick port was seeing and all it was was up and down simultanously so I bought a joysick connector shell, wired the two lines up and voila - it worked just fine :-)
    • by larien ( 5608 )
      Yup, I remember lenslok; I didn't find it too bad once you got the hang of it, even on the crappy TV I had on my speccy. It could occassionally be painful at times if you got the sizing wrong, though.

      I never actually had to deal with dongles, although I did see them around from time to time. I've seen the daisy chains as you say, hanging off the back of the desk... urgh...

    • Fucking leslock. I curse it to this day. Amstrad CPC with a greenscreen + lenslock was an exercise in futility. First example I remember of being prevented from using software I had actually paid for.
    • Capcom I think released a fighting game similar to Mortal Combat in the mid 90s, and distributed with it was a code book - matte black paper with shiny black codes which would just show up all black if photocopied.

      To play the game it'd say something like "Page 3 row 5 column C", then look it up in the code book and squint with the light in the right direction to get the code.

      Similar-ish idea, but much less retarded.
  • by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:59PM (#23716359)
    I remember copy protection from the days of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks, back when I'd have to boot off the game disk to play. The drive would start grinding like crazy before the game finally started. I never experienced problems but I recall hearing that the copy protection was taxing on the drive and could damage it.

    This prevented someone from just copying the files on the disk directly. But there was an application that just copied the image and got around that nonsense.

    Things haven't really changed. I don't understand why they just don't give up. This has been repeated many times, but it's true. All they're doing is inconveniencing consumers who actually paid for the product.
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      The Apple II was ideal for copy protection. Due to the design of the floppy drives and controller, the programmer had low-level access to the guts of the drive. You could directly manipulate the stepper motor used for head positioning and do all sorts of bizarre data encoding and track formatting tricks.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:02PM (#23716397)

    I think we're pretty reasonable.

    The software can be downloaded and trialed for 30 days. After that time, it locks out. Could you set your system clock back 30 days? Sure. Do we really care too much? No. If you want to keep your system out of sync by a month just to avoid paying us, you are a doofus.

    If you want a license, there are many types available. Our software views documents. You can license an entire web server to serve documents to our viewer, and it will view them. You can get a LAN license which locks to a hostname which allows you to install the software on a file server, and anybody running the software off that server is licensed. If you change hostnames, You can even buy a utility that allows you to embed a license inside a document, so that anybody with a free copy of the viewer can view that particular document.

    The license is protected with some simple ciphering. Could it be broken? Sure. Could the host locking be broken? Sure. We don't really care too much. The license is there to keep people from accidentally installing the software on more than one file server. If you want to do it deliberately, you need to set both hosts to the same hostname. Or figure out how to hack the encryption. We don't delude ourselves into thinking this is impossible. To our knowledge, nobody has bothered. If somebody came up with a keygen and put it out on the Internet, we'd be pissed. But our response would probably be to switch to another cipher. If our software was suddenly so popular as to inspire some cracker to write a keygen, my first response would probably be "Cool beans."

    None of the licensing mechanisms are onerous. It doesn't "phone home." It doesn't expire silently. If you want to extend your eval, we are happy to work with you.

    We prefer to sell our software by providing quality. If it's not worth the $XXX to you, then either you don't have a legitimate use, or our price is too high. But we're not going to treat our legit customers like criminals just to get that extra 1% in licensing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cdrguru ( 88047 )
      This works fine for things that aren't too popular. Once you get something that is "popular" is when the pirates, crackers and reversers decide to attack.

      The problem with this scheme is that it works fine when people respect you and your product. Having something popular and suddenly 90% of the potential users will find a warez copy that somebody bought with a stolen credit card. And there is a keygen or whatever it takes to use the product without paying.

      Mostly, it is respect and there is damn little of
  • The irony... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:06PM (#23716443) that the people who are described as the good guys in this article are the ones who want to control your computer, and even more they refer to those wanting to choose what to do with their own computers as 'crackers'
    • People that break copy protections (Specifically unprotect .exe's) refer to themselves as crackers.
  • ... of legit users. A while ago I wanted to play Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, never came to it when it was "new", but it wouldn't work on my new machine with Windows Vista. The fix was easy, download the no-cd patch (the one with copyright protection removed) and it works without a single issue.

    Copyright protection software often abuses certain OS features which could be "fix" in a security update and thereby rendering the copyright protected software useless.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:14PM (#23716525) Homepage Journal
    I remember in the 1980s when game vendors started burning bad sectors into Atari 400/800 floppies on which they distributed their products. Their game's loader SW would try to read those sectors and abort if they weren't unreadable, thinking that pirates couldn't replicate them with just diskdup SW.

    The Atari 810 floppy drive [] (the highest density storage available, like a 1TB HD is now, and the only game in town other than ridiculous tape drives, except for the extremely rare and stratospherically expensive 5MB Corvus HD) had a little potentiometer in its circuitboard controlling timing of the eletromagnetic signal waveform sent to the write head, that could be turned out of calibration to deliberately write a bad sector. So pirates would map the original's bad sector list, then copy the good sectors, then detune the pot, then write to the list of bad sectors - ruining them, then retune the pot and boot the copy.

    Sure, that's pretty complex, voids the floppy warranty, and intimidates a lot of potential pirates. So instead, some people just stuck a disklabel to the edge of the target floppy, left the label sticking out of the drive, and grabbed that tab to jiggle the floppy while writing to each of the bad sectors - ruining them. Presto!

    Besides, the pro pirates had the same mass floppy duplicators with the same programmable "write bad sector" circuitry that the original game vendors had, so the large, commercial pirates weren't fazed (pun intended ;) one bit (gotcha again >:P), but lots of honest people couldn't back up their games (which were sensitive to all kinds of transient EM, like paperclip collector magnets on desktops), and the vendors spent valuable time and money on worthless copy protection.

    In fact, beating the copy protection was often more fun than the game. So around the world people were working to beat it, even if they never played the game again, but gave copies to friends just to show how ubergeek they were.

    This cat & mouse game is in fact the exact model for all SW copy protection. It's become only a worse value waste for the SW producers, especially in content. They should use their only advantage, their earlier possession of the SW/content, to make big bucks at the first release, just like Hollywood does for movie premiere big weekends. Then let the pirates do their distribution work for free, and charge for support, customization, and subscriptions to upgrades. And build brands to sell their future releases.

    Because "Don't Copy That Floppy" has been a losing battle, long before people would say "what's a floppy?"
    • Yeah, I remember all that, especially tugging the floppy during the bad sector write. Of course, stuff like the Happy board, 1050 Duplicator etc made it a lot easier copying 8bit Atari games.
      Back then it was more about collecting titles than anything and people would try and out do each other on numbs 'hey, I've got 400 floppies full of games!' etc. The few games I actually played were the ones I bought, partly out of bloody mindedness i.e. having payed GBP35 for a game I was damn well going to get 35 wort
  • The Arms Race (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xrayspx ( 13127 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:15PM (#23716535) Homepage
    I loved being the 7834th person to figure out how to crack Psygnosis titles back in the Atari ST days. Not that I cared about being able to copy the games, they were available anywhere, but just to figure out how to get around the hurdle.

    Back then every game was like buying two games, one that they wanted you to play, and one that they didn't want you to play, the "figure out how to copy it" game. I was never really any good at the cracking-the-game game, but it was interesting and fun anyway.
  • Badly researched, inaccurate...
    It misses out on huge chunks of anti-piracy techniques, introduces stuff like it was new ten years after it was first used and asfor 'typing programs into DOS' - WTF?
    This has to be one of the worst articles a slashdot story has linked to for some time.
  • DO NOT WANT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:20PM (#23716599) Homepage Journal
    You know, I used to really enjoy playing Team Fortress Classic under the old Half-Life engine. Even the occasional cheater would provide some amusement. Then Valve jammed Steam down everyone's throat, and suddenly I couldn't play anymore. Because I refused to install Steam.

    I think I'd enjoy playing Half-Life 2. But I won't install Steam. Same deal for Portal; looks like enormous fun. But I will not install Steam.

    You seeing a trend here?

    Valve is leaving at least $120 retail on the table. I am paying for entertainment. I am not paying for remote monitoring. I can look after my own machines, thank you. All Valve has to do is delete the Steam requirement, and they can have my money.


    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Kneo24 ( 688412 )
      You know, you can play your games in offline mode, where STEAM doesn't snoop on you all the time. That's great for single player games like Portal. Online games, ok, you can't exactly play them in offline mode. Now, at the very least, you can play half the games you mentioned.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ZiakII ( 829432 )
      Well coming from my point of view,I love steam, and because of how they do their copy-protection/distribution I will always buy from them. I have one account that has all the PC games that I play. I decided to reformat my computer and don't have the CDs? I can leave my computer downloading overnight and have over 30+ gigs downloaded of games I purchased. I go to our CS labs I install steam and download the game and play with my buddies, not a problem since it does not care how many computers it installs on.
  • They talk about StarForce but not the sony root kit that was just as bad.
  • by Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:28PM (#23716711)
    rev1: fail
    rev2: fail
    rev3: fail
    rev4: fail
    rev5: fail
    rev6: fail
    current: seeing what happens (fingers crossed!)
  • C&C RA (Score:3, Funny)

    by Toreo asesino ( 951231 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:30PM (#23716731) Journal
    One of the C&C Red Alert would work out someone in a network play had the game copied (most of us were legit, but 8 people buying the same game is rare), but you wouldn't know immediately until everyone had at least a construction yard, power plant, refinery and barracks built for everyone, then without warning and for no apparent reason, everyone's buildings exploded at once like everyone had been nuked.

    It would've been a good photo to take of everyone's expressions at that exact moment, because it certainly took us by surprise and convinced us to, er, try even harder to crack it. Which we did.
  • Kings Quest III (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AdamTrace ( 255409 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:33PM (#23716773)
    From the article: "Perhaps the most notorious example of this method is Sierra's King's Quest III, in which lengthy passages of potion recipes and other information had to be reproduced from the manual. One typo, and you were greeted with a "Game Over" screen."

    I never viewed this as "copy protection", as such. If it was, I thought it brilliantly played into the actual game.

    The spot in the game is where you're creating a potion or magical item. You needed to follow the directions PRECISELY, or the spell would backfire. I remember typing VERY slowly and carefully, doublechecking everything. It really enhanced the experience of the game, for me.

    If it was meant purely as copy protection, I thought it actually ADDED something to the game.

  • by RexDevious ( 321791 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:41PM (#23716859) Homepage Journal
    E-Books *should* have been the first victims of internet piracy, simply because they were the smallest, and all the content was just good ol' plain text. Ever wonder why it's a hell of a lot easier to get a pirate copy of a whole DVD than it is to get one of a non-Guttenberged E-Book?

    One reason may be the incredibly elegant system of copy protection they used. You unlock the book with 2 pieces of information - the name and credit card number you used to buy the book. Now... someone might not think twice about throwing up a bunch of serialz out to the general public; but publishing their name and credit card number to a site that caters to thieves? Kinda loses it's appeal.

    Maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe people don't mind that e-books cost just the same as their paper counterparts. Maybe computer geeks would rather lug around paper versions of Cryptonomicon than read it off their PDA's, or iPhones. Maybe someone's already cracked the .pdb e-book format, and I just haven't run across it despite having found dozens of ways of cracking movies and software.

    If so - let me know. I'd love to transfer my existing e-book collection into plain text, or possibly loan copies of some titles to people I wouldn't necessarily trust my credit card number with. I can give copies to my mum, and she could give the same copy to someone else - but she'd have to give them all my credit card info for them to read it which makes her much more discerning.

    There are other little aspects to it as well - take a look at how e-books are sold to see why they aren't pirated and see if you think it could be applied to larger software offerings.
  • Back in the late 1980's, Data I/O Corp. [] first released their 'Unisite' line of memory/PLD programming hardware. At that time, they were deathly paranoid about having each and every customer pay their (probably exorbitant) fee of at least $1,400 per year for keeping the programmer's operating software up to date.

    The initial scheme to handle this, and lock a single copy of the operating software to a single programmer, was to send a preprogrammed PAL (Programmable Array Logic) device with each update kit. Thi
  • Another horrible one was Lotus 123 for DOS, mainly earlier versions. That used to write to the master floppy when it installed to track where it had been installed. When you wanted to put it on another PC you had to uninstall it first and that would restore the master floppy ready for reinstalling elsewhere. It also wrote something nasty to the HD - an unmoveable file of some sort ISTR which probably made life interesting for defraggers.
  • by chrysalis ( 50680 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @07:34PM (#23717459) Homepage
    What? An article called "history of copy protection" without any word about protections used on C64, Atari and Amiga?

    Nothing about interrupts-based and sync-based protections, encryption, memory fillers, etc?

    Nothing about the Rob Northern jokes, that were funny toys for Atari crackers?

    Fortunately, protections were not limited to PCs.

    People who use to spend nights playing with MonST and ADebug would love to have at least one word about that in an article called "history of copy protection".

    Yes, I'm getting old, but the Atari ST/Amiga days are still my best memories, the best time I ever had in my life as a computer geek.
  • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @07:34PM (#23717461)
    FlexLM [] is a license manager that's been around for 20 years. You'll typically see it in corporate environments. It's horrible. It was twitchy and horrible back when it was introduced, and it's maintained that legacy of horribleness to this day. I have a full-license OrCAD installation on my laptop, and FlexLM regularly shoots itself in the head. This is an example where the DRM crap obstructs me from using the purchased product. It'll take me a couple of days to sort out which application scrogged the license file (several apps use FlexLM, and none play nice.) This is a regular occurrence, and it's one of the reasons I despise copy protection methods. I'm not using a bootleg copy of the product, yet I'm treated like I am.
  • Support Stardock (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @08:59PM (#23718213)
    Seriously. They are a company that seems to think that copy protection isn't necessary to make money. Their Impulse program is like Steam without the suck. No DRM, no encryption, etc. Mostly older titles and indy stuff they sell, but there are some real gems in there. Sins of a Solar Empire is a current retail game and is just great. Think Homeworld crossed with Master of Orion. Well worth the money. Heck, you can even buy it retail and then register the serial, and Impulse will happily install it if you lose your disk. Depths of Peril is also great. Graphics are a bit dated but the game is top notch.

    At any rate if you want games without the bullshit, and what to support a publisher who believes in that, well then these are your people. I've been real happy so far (I own 8 games from their library). If you see a game you like, I encourage you to buy it through them. The more people that support the model, the more developers that'll realise it's a good idea and release games on it. []
  • Wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Necrotica ( 241109 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @10:07PM (#23718699)
    That could be the worst article on copy protection I have ever read. Nothing like doing a "history of..." article and starting roughly 10 years late. If I were a betting man I'd guess that copy protection started back on the Commodore 64 by cleverly placing errors on the media itself. The executable would force the drive head to go directly to the sector on the disk where the error was located for verification, and if it was there, the loading process continued. What was neat about this was that there were different [i]types[/i] of errors - I don't remember all of them, but the wrong kind of error would result in the program to halt loading. Of course, C= owners hated this. The sound that the 1541 drive would make as it was forced to read the error was an awful grinding sound. Some people believed that this could physically harm the drive, however I myself never experienced that and I played a hell of a lot of games. This was first circumvented by a Canadian - a man I have never met but was legendary in his home town. He's now a project manager at Microsoft I believe. His software - Super Hacker - was the first disk duplication software for the C= 64 that could copy the errors. Ha, I still get a laugh that it would take approximately 90 MINUTES to copy one 170K 5.25" disk using Super Hacker. Believe me, being a pirate in those days was a lesson in patience. As technology evolved, so too did copy protection. Half tracks, extra sectors, etc. became common place. They were easily reproduced with a bit for bit disk copy programs that started to hit the market. Copy protection has a fascinating history. From a pragmatic point of view, however, it has never made sense to me why vendors spend so much money on copy protection when it INEVITABLY will be broken. I would love to know the actual success rate of hackers vs. copy protection schemes.
  • by hansamurai ( 907719 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @10:53PM (#23719121) Homepage Journal
    I did a quick ctrl-f at the level I browse at and didn't see anyone mention Monkey Island and only one person mention King's Quest (didn't RTFA). Those are the first games I had experience with copy protection.

    I remember my cousin had the Secret of Monkey Island and I loved playing it at her house. The stupid wheel though was a hindrance from taking it home. I think my dad ended up photocopying every combination but that seems like there would have been a lot of permutations. Either way, a family friend eventually gave me Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge and I was able to experience the monkeyness at home until I bought the collection on CD-ROM a few years later. Curse of Monkey Island is still one of my favorite games of all time.

    The other game was King's Quest IV: Perils of Rosella. You had to type out certain words straight from the instruction booklet. We didn't own this game so we had a photocopy of the book. Eventually we lost that but I was able to remember a specific word or two from the book and just tried those over and over again until I got into the game. That game pissed me off though, I am not a fan of King's Quest these days. :P

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.